Wednesday, July 11, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, July 11, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman,
Contributor, Jakarta

The presidential election is still two years away, but political intrigues among the country's elites have already begun.

In March, for example, chairman of Muhammadiyah, Din Syamsuddin, was reportedly involved in the establishment of Baitul Muslimin, an Islamic-oriented economic wing of the nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

The move prompted raised eyebrows among Muhammadiyah members, who see any cooperation with a secular nationalistic political party as something unusual.

Established on Nov. 8, 1912 in Yogyakarta, Muhammadiyah is the second largest Islamic organization in Indonesia with 30 million members. The largest is Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which claims to have some 40 million members.

PDI-P, on the other hand, is one of the biggest political parties in the country. Its chairwoman, Megawati Soekarnoputri, is expected to join the 2009 election.

Din denied suggestions he was eying the post of vice president in the upcoming election.

"I have never been requested by PDI-P or Ibu Mega to be the party's vice presidential candidate," Din once said.

Sure, and there are no permanent friends and enemies in politics.

Recently, Din invited Jakarta governor hopeful Adang Daradjatun, who is backed by the conservative Islamic-oriented Justice Welfare Party (PKS), to his house for a meeting.

Din has insisted that Muhammadiyah, as a religious organization, has no structural organizational relations with any political parties. "But that doesn't mean we have to keep our distance from political parties... as they still play an important role in opening access to decision-making both in parliament and the executive," he said during the meeting.

Nevertheless, Muhammadiyah members have become increasingly uneasy with the apparent infiltration of a political ideology into the organization, which prompted Din to issue a decree warning members that PKS was a political party aiming to grab power.

The decree also reiterated the organization's non-political commitment by forbidding the establishment of a political party using Muhammadiyah's name and symbol.

Traditionally, many Muhammadiyah members have been actively involved in politics and significant numbers can be found in both the executive and parliament.

Even the National Mandate Party (PAN), which many regarded a "Muhammadiyah" political party, has somewhat failed to significantly woo and unite Muhammadiyah members.

"Any outside infiltration into non-political organizations and development of new thoughts are not new phenomena and happen not only in Muhammadiyah," Din told The Jakarta Post at his residence, an hour before the arrival of Adang and his entourage.

Born on Aug. 31, 1958, in Sumbawa Besar, West Nusa Tenggara province, Din grew up in an NU family. He spent his elementary and junior secondary education in NU schools as his father was a chairman of IPNU (NU Students' Association).

At his uncle's request, Din enrolled at the Gontor pesantren in East Java, where he became acquainted with the late Nurcholish Madjid, a moderate and prominent Islamic intellectual who opened his mind to the plurality of the Islamic school of thoughts.

He later studied at IAIN Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic College and became chairman of Pemuda Muhammadiyah, or the Muhammadiyah Youth Wing, from 1989 to 1993.

Fluent in English, Arabic and French, Din was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and studied at the University of California Los Angeles, earning a PhD in political science. His thesis is titled Islam and Politics in Islam: The Case of Muhammadiyah in Indonesia's New Order.

Din was active in the Golkar party for six years from 1993 to 1998 and served as a member of the Karya Pembangunan Faction from 1997 to 1998 in the country's highest political body -- the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Din was also appointed as director general of Manpower Placement at the Manpower Ministry.
As an activist, Din became deputy chairman of Muhammadiyah under the leadership of Syafi'i Ma'arif.

On July 7, 2005, during the 45th Muktamar of Muhammadiyah, Din was elected as chairman of Muhammadiyah with 1,718 votes, replacing Syafi'i Maarif, a moderate Muslim leader widely respected both in Indonesia and abroad for his consistency in upholding his principles.

Din was believed to have won the votes of the increasingly strong conservative elements of the organization. Nevertheless, not along after he was elected, Din bewildered those who supported him by announcing that Christians could use Muhammadiyah schools or buildings to perform their prayers, at a time when many churches were being attacked and vandalized by Islamic hard line groups.

He said he understood those who wanted to apply shariah or Islamic laws in the country, but shariah should be understood in a broader manner.

"Islamic shariah is an Islamic teaching that emphasizes akhlak (good deeds)," he said, adding that treating shariah as a mere law is a gross reduction of Islamic values.

"Even (state ideology) Pancasila is already Islamic and could serve as a kalimatun sawa (common platform) in this pluralistic country," he said, adding opposition to sharia is also an anti-democratic attitude.

Din, who is also president of the Asian Conference for Religion and Peace (ACRP) -- with its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan -- believes most Indonesian Muslims are not interested in extreme liberalism and religious fundamentalism.

This is the reason he launched the Center for Dialogue and Cooperation among Civilizations (CDCC).

"We continue to encounter prejudices, misconceptions and misunderstandings among people of different religions and civilizations, especially between Islam and Christian West... we believe the prejudices and misconceptions among people of different faiths can be eradicated by persistent dialogue and cooperation," he said during the center's launch, which was marked by a public lecture by Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono.

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